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Hollande to face media for first time since start of affair controversy

The French president’s private life was thrust into the spotlight last week by media allegations he was having an affair with actress Julie Gayet.

Image: Remy de la Mauviniere/AP/Press Association Images

FRANCOIS HOLLANDE FACES the tough task of rousing media interest for his 2014 policy plans today, as his partner remains in hospital following news of his alleged affair with a glamorous actress.

The French president is to hold a high-profile press conference which was initially expected to culminate with a key announcement on reforms to spur economic growth and create jobs.

But the conference, scheduled for 3.30pm this afternoon (Irish time), is more likely to produce headlines on Hollande’s private life, which was thrust into the spotlight last week by media allegations he was having an affair with actress Julie Gayet.

The leader of the opposition, right-wing UMP party chief Jean-Francois Cope, has already pounced on the scandal as “having deeply undermined the president’s authority”.

David Assouline, a spokesman for Hollande’s Socialist party, yesterday highlighted the right of any public official to a private life and defended the reform to be announced at today’s event.

Pact

In front of around 500 journalists, Hollande will float his “responsibility pact”, in which he offers companies lower labour taxes in exchange for hiring more workers.

The Socialist leader, 59, had initially been hoping to ride out the storm created by last week’s report of an affair with Gayet, a blonde actress 18 years his junior.

But those hopes were shattered with the hospitalisation on Friday of Valerie Trierweiler, Hollande’s companion of several years and de facto First Lady.

She had been expected to check out yesterday, but “doctors believe she needs more rest”, an aide to Trierweiler said.

Symptoms variously described in the media as low blood pressure, exhaustion and a “severe case of the blues” developed within hours of glossy French magazine Closer publishing details of Hollande’s alleged secret trysts with Gayet in a borrowed apartment close to his residence.

Since then Hollande has faced mounting pressure, including from his own camp, to spell out the role of Trierweiler, who lives with him at the Elysee Palace.

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Francois Hollande and Valerie Trierweiler in May 2012 [Image: Francois Mori/AP/Press Association]

“He has to clarify the situation,” said Thierry Mandon, the spokesman for the Socialist Party’s parliamentary group.

“He has to do it once, firmly and decisively, and then we don’t talk about it any more,” he said ahead of Hollande’s bi-annual press conference, his third since coming to power in May 2012

‘Ready to forgive’

The traditional reticence in France’s media and political class over what is seen as prying into the private lives of public figures ensured that reaction was at first subdued.

Despite concerns that Hollande had apparently been taking risks with his own security with clandestine visits to the flat on a chauffeur-driven scooter, it looked like he would be allowed to resolve his personal dilemma behind closed doors.

But the fact that Trierweiler is effectively a public figure with an entourage funded by the taxpayer has made her future a legitimate news story.

Having put her career as a journalist for Paris Match on hold after Hollande’s 2012 election, Trierweiler has accompanied the president on overseas visits to China, Japan and India, and is due to travel with him to Washington next month.

Francois Rebsamen, who chairs the socialist party group in the Senate and is close to the head of state, told RTL radio Tuesday he hoped the notion of “First Lady” in France would disappear, calling it an “outdated practice” that should be banned.

- © AFP 2014.

Read: French magazine alleges Francois Hollande affair with actress

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